The J. Peterman Company has been around, publishing its glorious owner’s manuals since 1987 (the year I started High School). Yes, I had to look that up.
I never saw one, nor watched Seinfeld, until I went away to college. That was when my mentor, Steven Crain, shared one of the catalogs on a cool, foggy Monterey morning.
Over tea in his forest home, I paged through watercolors of clothes: crisp or flowing; Dripping with translucent florals or solid hues as opaque as heavy whipping cream. A beautiful catalog that sold…dreams. Yes, they sold clothing dreams with words.
J. Peterman has always claimed to sell “uncommonly good stuff” because, “Clearly, people want things that make their lives the way they wish they were.” I really got behind that as a loud, chunky, Freshman at UCSC.
White rice and peanut butter be damned, I wanted AWESOME CLOTHING. I couldn’t afford it, so I read about it in those Owners Manuals. They were an excellent read, erotic and deliciously romantic if you found descriptions of fabric salacious. Which I did. Do. Always have, and always will. Ooooh, Baby. Talk to me about your brushed twill. Your silk velvet.
I went on as a fan and a closet reader of this incredible free periodical for years. When the company exploded into retail, I bought a few amazing items at their Camarillo outlet store. Then when they plummeted into bankruptcy, I went to the liquidation sale in San Francisco and I bought every single thing that fit and I could afford. That was truly one of the most fun days of my life (back me up here Ruth).
John Peterman bought back his name, wrote a book, and the company rose from its own ashes with the glorious plumage we’d come to expect from a flashy bird like a Phoenix.
As my salary increased, I regularly added to my collection. I met other enthusiasts, and together, we planned a unique event in SF: The J. Peterman Fashion Show. Alas, it never came to be, as Carrie moved away, and I didn’t hound James enough to get John Peterman to actually MC, but the idea was this:
Model a J. Peterman outfit or item, and bring the language from the Owner’s Manual to be read aloud while you’re on the catwalk.
Make something amazing to wear, and write J. Petermanesque copy to go with your creation.
Gods and goddesses, but that would have been a night to remember.
As I said, it never happened. I just went about my life, taking jobs, becoming a professional, and spending a bit of my salaries here and there on things I could not do without. Because I do get attached to things. Amazing things like beautiful clothes.
This week, J. Peterman announced a little writing contest:
Imagine the one item of clothing that would make you feel just right. Now, give it a name and a number (like No. 7123). It’s perfectly fine if you overlap numbers with a friend; we encourage all forms of overlapping. Post your story here about the item in as few words as possible. (Hint: the shorter, the better.) JP will pick the one that gives him pause. To the winner goes the spoils (a $1,000 gift certificate). Pencils down at midnight Sunday (EST). The page is blank.
Heeeeey….. I’m a writer!
These then, are my submissions. They’re not short, so I’m pretty sure I won’t win. And even if I did, these days, it is with a heavy heart that I report that 1) J. Peterman quality isn’t what it used to be and 2) They rarely, if ever, have glorious things in my “these days” size.
Still, I relished my time writing them. It was joyous. Plus, the whole point of all those stories about romantic, sexy, life-changing objects, is hope.
Desire that life can be as exotic, adventurous, and romantic as we always dream it will be. So with that in mind, I share a little bit about my current personal clothing dreams, in the style of The J. Peterman Owners Manual:
The Opposite of Glass No. 627
It was all perfect: hair, gown, clutch. She only needed these for the ideal night. Supple black leather with padded inner sole. Snug embrace of elastic holding a sassy T-band of velvet –firm over her arch– for waltzing across the floor. They are all shocked by the peek of polished toenail, but the airflow is divine once the rhumba music starts. She has no desire to remove such a comfortable shoe, but he can’t wait to reach down and slip it off her foot.
For the Dogs No. 1317
The forecast says a 90% chance of rain, unheard of on the American Riviera. On The Mesa lives a Blue Merle Cattle Dog who, if he doesn’t get to the beach, guarantees a 100% chance of mayhem and destruction. Time for this perfect trio: Riviera Rain Gear. Boots the rusty red of Saltillo tile. Waterproof poncho of thinnest ripstop rubber in Santa Barbara Blue. Top it off with a fisherman’s hat that combines the dusty azure and terra cotta colors in a stylized print of manzanita flowers. Sure, rain happens, but it can’t dampen this lifestyle.